A food labelling system which showcases Britain’s animal welfare standards coupled with a detailed country of origin label could be rolled out across supermarkets after Brexit.
Announcing the plans at the Oxford Farming Conference, Defra Secretary Michael Gove said a “gold-standard metric for food and farming quality” after Britain leaves the EU should be introduced.
He said that while price will always be a factor in the choices consumers make, they are also increasingly making choices based on other factors too.
Gove said: “If we look at some of the fastest growing food brands, providing the most value added for both consumers and producers, then it’s being able to provide certainty over origins, traceability of ingredients, integrity in production and a distinctiveness in taste which matter more and more.”
He then listed examples of high-standard British produce, such as West Country Farmhouse Cheddar and grass-fed beef from Devon.
He explained future profits in food production lie in “distinctive quality produce”.
Gove then praised current food assurance labels such as the Red Tractor and the Leaf mark for their commitment to high animal welfare ond environmental standards.
Red Tractor chief executive Jim Moseley said the quality of British food and its high production standards are two of the industry’s core strengths.
“Red Tractor Assurance and its logo provide the perfect vehicle for communicating this message at home and abroad. We welcome Mr Gove’s praise of the Red Tractor scheme and look forward to maximising the opportunities that Brexit provides for our members,” Mr Mosley explained.
However, the Defra Secretary said there’s still no single, scaled measure of how a farmer or food producer performs against a “sensible basket of indicators”.
This includes such things as soil health, control of pollution, contribution to water quality as well as animal welfare.
Gove added: “We’ve been in discussion with a number of farmers and food producers about how we might advance such a scheme and I think that, outside the EU, we could establish a measure of farm and food quality which would be world-leading.”
Animal welfare charity the RSPCA has welcomed Michael Gove’s comments. Head of Public Affairs David Bowles “Research shows that consumers are concerned about the provenance of their food, but it’s currently too easy for clever labels to cloud the real truth behind how that animal was reared.
“Food labels are an important way of ensuring consumers can make informed choices about what they eat. Compulsory labelling which includes how the animal had been cared for would also help to raise standards of farm animal welfare – eggs are a great example of this.
“We believe people have a right to know how the food they eat has been produced.”
Gove also took the opportunity at the Oxford Real Farming Conference to highlight the concerns over undermining agricultural regulation and welfare standards.
He said it will mean British farmers are no longer at the top of the value chain.